Remembering September 11th
8 years ago
One of the most frequent questions we receive from our "ask your own question" section here at tombguard.org is about September 11th, 2001. Here is my perspective.
On September 11, 2001 I was assigned to the Tomb. I had recently earned my Tomb Guard Identification Badge in the previous month after nearly nine months of training. However, my relief was not working that day. I was waking up to the news of the World Trade Center attacks on nearby Fort Myer adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery. Immediately following the attack on the Pentagon, the approximate 30 soldiers assigned to guard the Tomb were summoned to the Arlington Cemetery.
In the aftermath of that day, the cemetery was closed around 1030hrs. Ceremonial guard duty was ceased at that time and two guards were posted in BDUs (battle dress uniform). Myself and another soldier were the first two soldiers assigned to guard the Tomb that day as the first 'non ceremonial' guards. A security perimeter was set up around the Tomb as well.
The day was hectic. In the ensuing days, some Tomb Guards were dispatched to the Pentagon to assist with locating survivors or to serve as body bearers. The cemetery opened some days later with the return of ceremonial guard duty. However, the Tomb was continuously guarded during this time.
Later in the day, some of us went down to Section 68 for a better view. Debris from the blast was in the area supposedly, and law enforcement personnel shooed us away. It was an interesting day and a unique point of view to have. I can still see the columns of smoke rising above the trees from where the plane hit the Pentagon.
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Did you know?
How many Sentinels have been female?
There have been over 680 tomb guards awarded the badge since 1958 when we started counting. There are hundreds more from the year 1926 when the Army started guarding the Tomb. The 3rd US Infantry (The Old Guard) is the unit that has been given the duty of guarding the Tomb. It was given this sacred duty in 1948. The Old Guard was -- and still is -- considered a combat unit. As an Infantry unit, females were not permitted in the ranks for many years. It wasn't until 1994 that females were permitted to volunteer to become a Sentinel when the 289th Military Police Company was attached to the Old Guard. The MP branch is a combat support unit and includes females.
In 1996, SGT Heather Johnson became the first female to earn the Tomb Guard Identification Badge. She volunteered for duty in June 1995 and earned her badge in 1996. However, SGT Johnson was not the only female Sentinel. Since then, there have been a total of five female Sentinels awarded the Tomb Guard Identification Badge:
SGT Danyell Wilson earned
her badge in 1997
SSG Tonya Bell received hers in 1998
SGT Ruth Hanks earned her badge in June 2015
SFC Chelsea Porterfield earned her badge in 2021
Several other units have since been attached to the Old Guard -- food service, transportation, medics, etc. -- so now females have an ever greater opportunity to become a Sentinel. Females must meet the same requirements as the male soldiers to be eligible to volunteer at the Tomb. the only difference is that females have a minimum height of 5'8" -- which is the same standard to be a member of the Old Guard.